Author’s Note: This story appeared in Adirondack Life Magazine’s July/August 2019 issue. It began on page 77, under the heading “Shenanigans”. It’s the only one of my five “Adirondack Life” stories published under its original title, without major edit. It was also the last one of my stories that Adirondack Life Magazine ever published.
Saranac Lake-1975. Before the Winter Olympics came back. Before the village beach moved. Before fast food and gas station mini-marts arrived. Before “Saranac Lake Redskins” became The Red Storm. Before Hotel Saranac closed. Before Super Fund Clean Up Sites. Before Aldi’s came. Before St. Pius left. Before.
I was 12, fully loaded; 3 speed bike, paper route, baseball mitt, fishing pole. Mom worked part time at the Saranac Lake Free Library. Dad was in Albany with the Department of Environmental Conservation.
Twelve-year-old boys growing up in Saranac Lake in the summer of 1975 had many responsibilities. Delivering the Plattsburgh Press Republican in the morning, Adirondack Daily Enterprise in the afternoon. Little League practice on evenings and weekends at Petrova Fields. In between we rode bikes, played vacant lot baseball, went swimming, and fished.
Dirk & Dean were brothers. They lived over by North Country Community College. Dirk was in my grade. Dean was a year younger. We shared many adventures together that summer: catching bullhead and frogs on Moody Pond, looking for garnets in the old Mount Baker mine, picking berries along the tracks, or daring each other to look out over the edge of the trestle on the river. We were always up to something.
One day Dirk quietly announced “Hey Dick-We found a boat. It’s unlocked.”
Back then, once you got past the town dump, there weren’t many houses on McKenzie Pond Road. Sometimes we hid our bikes in the woods and bushwhacked around the back side of the “NO TRESPASSING” signs on Kurung Pond to catch brookies. Other times we caught bass and pike below the rapids by my house on the river. Once we even walked the tracks and fished trout on the far side of Lake Colby. Moody Pond, Lake Flower, massive pike and suckers by the dam. We were kids. We knew where to catch fish.
But we didn’t have a boat. Our FATHERS had boats, but they were off limits. We were confined to fishing from shore, or, with a lookout and two-wheeled getaway vehicles at the ready, “Hit & Run” casting off an unguarded private dock.
Dirk & Dean had been out exploring on bikes. They found an old row boat outside one of the summer cottages in Breezy Acres down by Moody Bay. The boat was upside down and unlocked.
To us, “NO TRESPASSING” meant “FISH HERE”, and a row boat without a lock was an open invitation. We plotted our next move.
Dirk had heard that people caught whitefish by slowly jigging hooks baited with corn kernels up and down in deep water holes on McKenzie Pond. My dad had two oars leaning up in our garage. Dirk & Dean brought the corn. I brought the oars. We rendezvoused on the tracks near Pine Ridge Cemetery at dawn the next day.
We rode out McKenzie Pond Road, ditched our bikes in the woods and dragged the old boat to water’s edge. Once loaded, we pushed off into the bay and started rowing. I remember thinking “Wow! This sure is a lot bigger than Moody Pond!”
We rigged up our poles, opened the can of corn, put a kernel on our hooks, and prepared to start jigging. We were a fair ways from shore, headed around a bend from the cabins so we couldn’t be seen. The boat kept getting heavier and heavier as we rowed. We soon realized why. The back of the boat was dragging low in the water. We had a leak. Several leaks in fact. Our boat was slowly sinking. We had to think quick!
So, unwilling to abandon ship, we made a plan. We dumped the can of corn out onto the seat. One guy sat in the back of the boat and bailed, one guy rowed, one guy fished. The empty corn can was small, but if the bailer worked fast, he could keep up.
Once around the point, we no longer had to row. One guy kept bailing while the other two fished. It was not long before our efforts were rewarded. Dirk’s scouting report proved valid. We caught several nice whitefish.
After an hour or two spent jigging, we rowed over to a secluded spot on the far shore. Once there, we pulled the boat up into the weeds and debarked. We built a small campfire, cut a stick, cleaned a fish, and stood there roasting it over our fire. We ate off the stick. Smoke flavored whitefish by the pond. In a “borrowed” boat. Nothing finer.
Once finished, we packed up and pushed the leaky boat back out into the water. We rowed and bailed our way back across the bay, pulled the boat up onto shore and put it back on the blocks where we had found it. Pretty sure we hadn’t been spotted, we divvied up the remaining fish, retrieved our stashed bikes, and rode off. Three pre-teen outlaws, successfully making their escape.
Dad always told me, “Son, you will have two kinds of friends in life. The one you call for bail money, and the one sitting beside you in the cell.”
I was never quite sure what that meant, but to the list I would add a third kind of friend. The twelve-year-old kind.
The kind who helps you borrow a leaky old rowboat…and takes turns bailing while you fish.